Turning off the internet

In which I refuse to hit the off switch.

Steve Jobs presenting

I was unable to go outside this weekend. That may sound a bit drastic, it wasn’t though I was being kept under house arrest or physically restrained in my seat. Instead I had a cold and had to stay on the sofa to recuperate.

This allowed me to spend plenty of time with the TV and laptop, and rather than take a break from technology I was as unplugged as a Jean Michel Jarre concert celebrating an energy company’s birthday in a giant overflowing bath.

I find it difficult to disconnect from the technology around me, and get especially nervous when I try to disentangle myself from the internet. For everything it has done for me, I’m not sure I want to turn off the little glowing boxes. I’ll explain why.

Once plugged never unplugged

Online access is now so ubiquitous that it feels strange to not be connected. I am so used to being able to check my email or find a football score that when I lose that ability I feel lessened. When I was younger we would go on holiday to Spain where you could get a copy of the English newspapers a day late, it was a strange feeling to be reading what had happened two days ago in the real world. Now when I go abroad I have the need to know what is going on now just in case I miss something. Making sure there is complimentary wi-fi in a hotel is as important as a good view or comfortable beds, it’s become a basic amenity along with flushing toilets and a kettle to make tea with.

The Internet is, perhaps, humanity’s greatest invention. Along with the printing press and radio it has created a step change in the way we communicate with other and has heralded a change in knowledge and way we live that is unprecedented in history. It has become an part of modernity, and is now classified as a basic human right (in a way which books and television never were). This all in the space of 15-20 years. We have lived without the Internet before…but could we now?

Think of what the Internet has given us? Instant news, information on any topic seconds away, new models for media distribution, new outlets for people to express themselves and to meet others, more porn (and kinds of porn) than you could ever want or need.

To live unplugged is like having to live in a darkened room for the rest of your life. You will yearn for the light. I would miss Wikipedia, and instant score updates from the cricket, and catching up on Facebook, buying things from Amazon, watching stupid people on YouTube, writing this…

When I went to New York for Easter I took with me my smartphone, but due to the high roaming costs was unable to use it as a Internet-enabled device. Without that connection I felt lost.

How could I check train time tables for the Long Island Expressway, or use it to get directions from Penn Station to Central Park? What about nearby attractions to the park or good Argentinian steakhouse restaurants in Manhattan? How will people back home know where I am in New York, I can’t use Foursquare to say I’m at the Natural History Museum or check in at the Chimichurri Grill on Facebook? How can I post the picture of myself on the Iron Throne at the Game of Thrones exhibition to Google+ and how will I know what people are saying about it on Twitter.

My digital marriage

My life and my relationships are digital, without them I am not the person I am. This is not just hyperbole, I would be a vastly different person without the Internet. I would still be single.

The fact that I am married is down to the fact that we live in a world where the ability to connect to a server is more important than distance. The fact that I am married is down to the technology that allows me to communicate with someone in New York just as easily as 20 miles away.

Our relationship started online, and began many years before we first knew of each other. It all began on a fan fiction site that brought two people, 3,000 miles apart, together in a way that would not have been possible before the Internet. Our courtship began on Facebook, moved to Gmail then Skype. Five or six years ago we would have been able to do the same thing but would have had to wait until we got home to talk.

Now with an almost persistent online connection it didn’t matter if I was sat at a desktop, I can email on a park bench or send a message from the bath. Despite being so far apart we were still able to be close. Taking the Internet away means taking away my wife, and I wouldn’t want that.

What are we becoming

We give too many objects human characteristics, we act as though the Internet is a person stealing our time. Along with it’s cohorts, like Facebook, they are malicious entities that work to erode our personal communications. Throw into the mix the attention-seeking devices that are effectively small babies crying out for us to hold them and you have technology that is bringing down society and the end of the human race.

All of which is nonsense.

Technology is non-sentient, it has no motive other than to enable the user to perform a function. It is not an ignorant phone that doesn’t speak to you at lunch while it is messaging somebody else, it is the user. The Internet is not rude, rude people are rude.

Personally I love the ability to connect to the world at my fingertips. I have resources available to me that I never had before, like Google or Wikipedia, but it is not eroding the fabric of human knowledge as many would lead you to believe. My grandparents would bemoan the fact that I was not taught my multiplication tables by rote and that somehow my maths was poorer for it. Yet I could do algebra, and understand statistics and logic paths. Just because my future children will look something up on the Internet does not mean that they will be stupid, rather than spending 15 minutes searching through books for information on the Battle of Bosworth Field they can do a quick search wherever they are (as long as it’s not in an exam).

We are in the period where the always-online nature of today’s devices will change the way we live and work. Whether it is our phone or wearable computing like Google Glass we will need to learn new behaviours and ways of relating to each other. It will be down to us as human being’s how we react and adapt to this new connected paradigm, we can either rail against it because the “good ol’ days” were so much better or we can embrace our future as part of a connected collective of 7 billion people.

Sent from my Internet enabled phone, where I watched a video of a cat doing funny things and emailed my wife sitting a metre away from me if she wanted a drink.

Live life to it’s fullest, remain unplugged.

Sometimes, we all need a break from these little glowing boxes. How do you know when it’s time to unplug? What do you do to make it happen?

In response to: Bloggers, Unplugged

Author: Daddysaurus

Ah, so you worked out the riddle. You just needed to use dwarfish and the doors to Geek Ergo Sum opened. Or perhaps you just used Google. Either way you are here, on my little corner of the Internet.

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